Hawkins County Sheriff Ronnie Lawson said Tuesday that Church Hill Police Department Officer Ernest “Chip” Whitaker II was being served Tuesday with a criminal summons charging him with assault, leaving the scene of an accident and failure to report an accident.
Whitaker, 50, of Church Hill, has been with the CHPD for 22 years.
The charges stem from an incident that occurred the night of Sept. 18 when Whitaker allegedly rear-ended a van with his truck on Beech Creek Road, then grabbed the other driver’s shirt, ripping it, and grabbed his wrist.
Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Jeremy Nash responded to a complaint of an altercation on Fields Road in the Beech Creek community, but before his arrival he observed a vehicle pull into a church parking lot at the intersection of Highway 11-W and Goshen Valley Road at approximately 10:40 p.m.
Due to the late hour, Nash stopped to check the vehicle and church, and discovered that off-duty CHPD officer Whitaker was the driver.
“Sgt. Nash advised he did smell alcohol coming from Mr. Whitaker but his mannerisms did not appear intoxicated and he did not feel his ability to drive was in question,” Lawson stated in his report. “Sergeant Nash left the church and continued to the complaint.”
The alleged victim reportedly stated he was slowing to make a left turn from Beech Creek Road onto Fields Road when his van was struck in the rear by a red truck.
The man stated he turned onto Fields Road and his vehicle was struck again by the same vehicle, and he stopped and exited his vehicle to exchange information due to the incident.
“At this time a male (later identified as Whitaker) exited the red truck and walked up to (the man) and grabbed him by the shirt and started pulling him back to the rear of (the man’s) van,” Lawson said. “(The man) told the male, he had children — a female age 11, male age 10 and male age 1 — in the van and they did not need to see this. At this time (Whitaker) let loose of his shirt after ripping it and grabbed his wrist. (The man) was able to break away from (Whitaker) and he got into his van and drove to his home on Fields Road.”
The man stated that the suspect got back into his truck and continued west on Beech Creek Road. The victim reportedly gave a detailed description of the suspect and vehicle, and he stated the suspect appeared to be under the influence of some type of intoxicant during the altercation.
Nash reportedly observed damage to the rear of the van and it did have what appeared to be fresh red paint exchanged on it. Once Nash received the description, Whitaker became a suspect due to prior contact with the officer at the church.
“Sgt. Nash went to Mr. Whitaker’s home and observed a red Dodge truck with fresh damage to the front end and white paint appearing to match the color of (the man’s) van,” Lawson said. “Attempts to contact Whitaker at his home were unsuccessful.”
Lawson added that all information was gathered and presented to the assistant district attorney, after which it was decided to charge Whitaker with assault, leaving the scene of an accident and failure to report an accident.
There was no information available about when Whitaker is scheduled to appear in court.